"There's nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it." ~ William James
Everyday Anarchy - Part 2 of 7
Part 2 of 7
May 29, 2008
Anarchy and History
Our clich'd vision of the typical anarchist tends to see him emerging shortly before World War I, which is very interesting when you think about it. The stereotypical anarchist is portrayed as a feverish failure, who uses his political ideology as a self-righteous cover for his lust for violence. He claims he wishes to free the world from tyranny, when in fact all he wants to do is to break bones and take lives.
We typically view this anarchist as a form of terrorist, which is generally defined as someone committed to the use of violence to achieve political ends, and place both in the same category as those who attempt a military coup against an existing government.
However, when you break it down logically, it seems almost impossible to provide a definition of terrorism which does not also include political leaders, or at least the political process itself.
The act of war is itself an attempt to achieve political ends through the use of violence ' the annexation of property, the capturing of a new tax base, or the overthrow of a foreign government ' and it always requires a government that is willing and able to increase the use of violence against its own citizens, through tax increases and/or the military draft. Even defending a country against invasion inevitably requires an escalation of the use of force against domestic citizens.
Thus how can we easily divide those outside the political process who use violence to achieve their goals from those within the political process who use violence to achieve their goals? It remains a daunting task, to say the least.
What is fascinating about the mythology of the 'evil anarchists' ' and mythology it is ' is that even if we accept the stereotype, the disparity in body counts between the anarchists and their enemies remains staggeringly misrepresented, to say the least.
Anarchists in the period before the First World War killed perhaps a dozen or a score of people, almost all of them state heads or their representatives.
On the other hand, state heads or their representatives caused the deaths of over 10 million people through the First World War.
If we value human life ' as any reasonable and moral person must ' then fearing anarchists rather than political leaders is like fearing spontaneous combustion rather than heart disease. In the category of 'causing deaths,' a single government leader outranks all anarchists tens of thousands of times.
Does this seem like a surprising perspective to you? Ah, well that is what happens when you look at the facts of the world rather than the stories of the victors.
Another example would be an objective examination of murder and violence in 19th Century America . The typical story about the 'Wild West' is that it was a land populated by thieves, brigands and murderers, where only the 'thin blue line' of the lone local sheriffs stood between the helpless townspeople and the endless predations of swarthy and unshaven villains.
If we look at the simple facts, though, and contrast the declining 19th Century US murder rates with the 600,000 murders committed in the span of a few years by the government-run Civil War, we can see that the sheriffs were not particularly dedicated to protecting the helpless townspeople, but rather delivering their money, their lives and their children to the state through the brutal enforcement of taxation and military enslavement.
When we look at an institution such as slavery, we can see that it survived, fundamentally, on two central pillars ' patronizing and fear-mongering mythologies, and the shifting of the costs of enforcement to others.
What justifications were put forward, for instance, for the enslavement of blacks? Well, the 'white man's burden,' or the need to 'Christianize' and civilize these savage heathens ' this was the condescension ' and also because if the slaves were turned free, plantations would be burned to the ground, pale-throated women would be savagely violated, and all the endless torments of violence and destruction would be wreaked upon society ' this was the fear-mongering mythology!
Slavery as an institution could not conceivably survive economically if the slave owners had to pay for the actual expense of slavery themselves. Shifting the costs of the capture, imprisonment and return of slaves to the general taxpayer was the only way that slavery could remain profitable. The use of the political coercion required to make slavery profitable, of course, generates a great demand for mythological 'cover-ups,' or ideological distractions from the violence at the core of the institution. Thus violence always requires intellectualization, which is why governments always want to fund higher education and subsidize intellectuals. We shall get to more of this later.
Even outside war, in the 20th Century alone, more than 270 million people were murdered by their governments. Compared to the few dozen murders committed by anarchists, it is hard to see how the fantasy of the 'evil anarchist' could possibly be sustained when we compare the tiny pile of anarchist bodies to the virtual Everest of the dead heaped by governments in one century alone.
Surely if we are concerned about violence, murder, theft and rape, we should focus on those who commit the most evils ' political leaders ' rather than those who oppose them, even misguidedly. If we accept that political leaders murder mankind by the hundreds of millions, then we may even be tempted to have a shred of sympathy for these 'evil anarchists,' just as we would for a man who shoots down a rampaging mass murderer.
Anarchy and Ambivalence
The truth of the matter is that, as I stated above, it is clear that we have a love/hate relationship with anarchy. We yearn for it, and we fear it, in almost equal measure.
We love personal anarchy, and fear political anarchy. We desperately resist any encroachment or limitation upon our personal anarchy ' and fear, mock and attack any suggestion that political anarchy could be of value.
But ' how can it be possible that anarchy is both the greatest good and the greatest evil simultaneously? Surely that would make a mockery of reason, virtue and basic common sense.
Now we shall turn to a possible way of unraveling this contradiction.
Politics and Self-Interest
Truth is so often the first casualty of self-interest. In the realm of advertising, we can see this very clearly ' the company that sells an anti-aging cream uses fear and insecurity to drive demand for its product. 'Your beauty is measured by the elasticity of your skin, not the virtue of your soul,' they say, 'and no one will find you attractive if you do not look young!'
This is a rather shallow exploitation of insecurity; clearly what is really being sold is a definition of 'beauty' that does not require the challenging task of achieving and maintaining virtue. In the short run, it is far easier, after all, to rub overpriced cream on your face than it is to start down the path of genuine wisdom and integrity.
In this way, we can see that the self-interest of the advertiser and the consumer are both being served in the exchange, at the expense of the truth. We all know that we shall become old and ugly ' and also that this fate need not rob us of love, but rather that we can receive and give more love in our dotage than we did in our youth, if we live with virtue, compassion and generosity.
However, there is far less money to be made in philosophy than there is in vanity ' which is another way of saying that people will pay good money to avoid the demands of virtue ' and so the mutual exploitation of shallow avoidance is a cornerstone of any modern economy.
In the same way, being told that 'anarchism' is just bad, bad, bad helps us avoid the anxiety and ambivalence we in fact feel about that which we both fear and love at the same time. Our educational and political leaders 'sell' us relief from ambivalence and uncomfortable exploration ' inevitably, at the expense of truth ' and so far, we have been relatively eager consumers.
Self-Interest and Exploitation
The CEOs of large companies receive enormous salaries for their services. Let us imagine a scenario wherein a small number of new companies grow despite having no senior managers ' and appear to be making above-average profits to boot!
In this scenario, when business leadership is revealed as potentially counterproductive to profitability ' or at least, unrelated to profitability ' it is easy to see that the self-interest of business leaders is immediately and perhaps permanently threatened.
In addition, picture all the other groups and people whose interests would be harmed in such a scenario. Business schools would see their enrolment numbers drop precipitously; the lawyers, accountants and decorators who served these business leaders would see the demand for their services dropping; the private schools that catered to the families of the rich would be hard hit, at least for a time. Elite magazines, business shows, conventions, life coaches, haberdashers, tailors and all other sorts of other people would feel the sting of the transition, to put it mildly.
We can easily imagine that the first few companies to see increased profitability as a result of ditching their senior managers would be roundly condemned and mocked by the entrenched managers in similar companies. These companies would be accused of 'cooking the books,' of exploiting a mere statistical anomaly or fluke, of having secret managers, of producing shoddy goods, of 'stuffing the pipe' with premature sales, of actually running at a loss, and so on.
Their imminent demise would be gleefully predicted by most if not all self-interested onlookers. The CEOs of existing companies would avoid doing business with them, and would doubtless combine a patronizing 'benevolence' ('Yes, you do see these trends emerge once every few years ' they bubble up, falter, and die out, and investors end up poorer but wiser') with fairly-open fear-mongering ('I'm not sure that it is a good career move to work at these sort of companies; I would consider it a rather black mark on the resume of any job-seeker'') and so on.
Should these new companies continue to grow, doubtless the existing business executives would get in touch with their political friends, seeking for a political 'solution' on behalf of the 'consumers' they wished to 'protect.'
Entrenched groups will always move to protect their own self-interest ' this is not a bad thing, it is simply a fact of human nature. It is thus important to understand that what is called unproductive, negative, 'extreme' or dangerous may indeed be so, but it is always worth looking at the motives of those who invest the time and energy to create and propagate such labels. Why are they so interested?
We can also find examples of this in the phenomenon of the 'Robber Barons' in late 19th Century America . The story goes that these amoral predatory monopolists were fleecing a helpless public, and so had to be restrained through the force of government anti-monopoly legislation.
If this story were really true, the first thing that we would expect is a 1-2 punch of evidence showing how prices were rising where these 'monopolies' flourished ' and also that it was these helpless and enraged consumers who thumped the ears of their legislators and demanded protection from the monopolists.
Of course, it would be purely absurd to imagine that this was the case, and it turns out to be a complete falsehood.
If an unjust price increase of 10%-20% was imposed upon ground beef, the net loss to the average consumer would be no more than a few pennies a week. It is incomprehensible to imagine any consumer ' or group of consumers ' combining their time and effort to pursue complex and lengthy legislation for the sake of opposing a tiny price increase. The cost/benefit ratio would be absurdly out of balance, since it would doubtless cost most of these consumers far more in time and money to pursue such action than they could conceivably save by reducing such an unjust price increase.
Are you pursuing legal action against Exxon for higher gas prices?
Of course not.
Thus to find the real culprits, we must first look at any group which can justify the pursuit of such complex and uncertain legislation; the purchasing of legislators, the writing of articles and other efforts spent to influence the media, the desperate pursuit of a highly risky venture ' who could possibly justify such a mad investment?
The answer is obvious, and contains all the information we need to know to disprove the claims put forward.
The groups most harmed by these supposed-monopolists were, of course, their direct competitors. Thus we would expect that the primary ' if not sole ' sponsors of this legislation would not be the outraged consumers, but rather the companies competing with these 'Robber Barons.'
Clearly, if these monopolists were unjustly increasing prices, this would be an endless invitation for these competitors ' or even outside entrepreneurs ' to undercut their prices.
Ah, but perhaps these Robber Barons were achieving their monopolies through preferential political favors such as forcibly keeping competitors from entering the market.
Well, we know for certain that this could not be the case. If these Robber Barons actually did own the legislature, then their competitors would be highly unlikely to take the step of attempting to influence the legislature, because they would know it was a fight they could not win. If these 'monopolists' were gaining massive and unjust profits through political favors, then their competitors who were shut out of such a lucrative system would be completely unable to funnel as much money to the legislators. Furthermore, those making the laws would be exposed to blackmail for past deals if they 'switched sides' so to speak.
Thus without examining a single historical fact, we can very easily determine what actually happened, which was that:
- a) The monopolists were not actually raising prices, but were lowering them, which we know because their competitors did not take the economic route of undercutting on price, but rather the political route of using the force of the state to cripple these 'monopolists.'
- b) The monopolists were not gaining market share or unjust profits through political means, because the legislatures were still available for sale.
- c) The consumers were entirely happy with the existing arrangement, which we know because the competitors had nothing to offer that the consumers would prefer to the existing state of things.
This hypothesis is amply borne out by the accurate historical evidence. Where these 'Robber Barons' dominated the market, the prices of the goods they produced went down, sometimes considerably ' in the case of using refrigerated railcars to store meat, a price drop of 30% was achieved in the span of a few months.
Clearly, this did not harm the interests of the consumer ' but it did harm the self-interest of those attempting to compete with these highly-efficient businesses. Sadly ' though, with the temptation of the government ever-present, inevitably it seems ' these competitors preferred to take the political route of attacking their successful rivals through the power of the state rather than attempting to innovate themselves in turn and compete more successfully in the free market.
What about the argument that the Robber Barons used violence to create their monopolies, by threatening or killing competing workers?
Well, even if we accept this argument as true, it serves the anarchistic argument far more than the statist position.
If you hired a security guard who continually fell asleep on the job, and permitted the facility he guarded to be robbed over and over again, year after year, what would your reaction be? Would you wake him up and promote him to the rank of global manager of a highly complex security company? Would his rank incompetence at a simple task make him your ideal candidate for an enormously complex job?
Of course not.
If a government is so amoral and incompetent that it permits the murder of innocent citizens by the Robber Barons, then clearly it cannot conceivably be competent and moral enough to protect citizens from the complex economic predations of the same Robber Barons. A group that cannot perform a simple function cannot conceivably perform a far more complex function.
Over a hundred years later, we can still see how effective this propaganda really is. The specters of these 'Robber Barons' still inhabit the imaginary haunted houses of our history. The role of government in controlling exploitive monopolies remains unquestioned ' and how many people know the basic facts of the situation, principally that it was not the consumers who opposed these companies, but their competitors?
When we look at political 'solutions' to pressing 'problems,' we see the same pattern over and over again. Government-run education was not instituted because parents were dissatisfied with private schools, or because children were not educated, or anything like that ' but rather because the teachers wanted the job security, and cultural and religious busybodies wanted to get their hands on the tender minds of children. The 'New Deal' in the 1930s was not instituted because the free market made people poor, but rather because government mismanagement of the money supply destroyed almost a quarter of the wealth of the United States .
Time and time again, we see that it is not freedom that leads to political control and an increase in state violence, but rather prior increases in political control and state violence.
The government does not expand its control because freedom does not work; freedom does not work because the government expands its control.
Thus we can see that freedom ' or voluntarism, or anarchy ' does not create problems that governments are required to 'solve.' Rather, propagandists lie about what the government is up to ('protecting consumers' really means 'using violence to protect the profits of inefficient businesses'), and the resulting expansions of political coercion and control breeds more problems, which are always ascribed to freedom.
Anarchy and Political Leaders
Clearly, there exists an entire class of people who gain immense profit, prestige and power from the existence of the government. It is equally true that, as a collective, these people have enormous control and influence over the minds of children, since it is that same government that educates virtually every child for six or more hours a day, five days a week, for almost a decade and a half of their formative years.
To analogize this situation, can we imagine that we would be at all surprised that children who came out of 14 years of religious indoctrination would in general believe in the existence and virtue of God? Would we be at all surprised if the strong arguments for atheism were left off a curriculum expressly designed by the priests, who directly profit from the maintenance of religious belief? In fact, we would fully expect such children to be actively trained in the rejection of arguments for atheism ' inoculated against it, so to speak, so that they would react with scorn or hostility to such arguments.
We may as well hold our breath waiting for the next commercial from General Motors talking about the shortcomings of their own cars, and the virtues of their competitors' vehicles. Or perhaps we should wait for a full-color spread from McDonald's depicting detailed pictures of clogged arteries?
If so, we will wait in vain.
Similarly, when the government trains the children, how do we expect the government to portray itself? Would we expect government-paid teachers to talk openly about the root of state power, which is the initiation of the use of force against legally-disarmed citizens? Would we expect them to openly and honestly talk about the source of their income, which is the property taxes that are forcibly extracted from their students' parents?
Would we expect these same teachers to talk about how government power grows through the endless pressure and greed of special interest groups, who wish to offload the costs of the violent enforcement of their greed on the taxpayers that they in fact prey upon?
Of course not.
This is not because these teachers are evil, but rather because people respond to incentives. If the basic truths of history, logic, ethics and reality are inconvenient to those in power ' as they inevitably are ' those paid by those in power will almost never talk about them. We would not expect a Stalinist-era teacher to speak of the glories of capitalism; we would not expect an Antebellum teacher to teach the children of slave-owners about the evils of slavery; we would not expect an instructor at West Point to talk about the evils and corruption of the military-industrial complex, any more than we would expect the Vatican to voluntarily initiate a discussion of child abuse by Catholic priests.
We can view these basic facts without bottomless rancor, but with a gentle, almost kindly sympathy towards the inevitable trickle-down and corrupting effects of violent power.
It is no doubt a dizzying perspective to begin to examine the dark, dank and foggy jungle of propaganda with the simple light of truth, but that is what an anarchist is really all about.
Quote">An anarchist accepts the simple and basic reality that every single human being fundamentally values free choice in his or her own personal life.
An anarchist accepts the simple and basic reality that he who pays the piper always calls the tune ' and that arguments against the virtue and efficacy of political power will never be disseminated in an educational system paid for by political power.
An anarchist accepts the simple and basic reality that human beings at best have an ambivalent relationship with voluntarism ' and that human beings habitually avoid the discomfort of ambivalence, and so don't want to talk about anarchism any more then they want to bring up their doubts about religion during a Christian wedding ceremony.
The barriers to a reasonable understanding of the anarchistic perspective are emotionally volatile, socially isolating and almost endless. The reasonable anarchist accepts these basic facts ' since facts are what anarchy is all about ' and if he is truly wise, falls at least a little in love with the difficulties of his task.
We should love the difficulties we face, because if it were easy to free the world, the fact that the world is so far from being free would be completely incomprehensible . . . .
This is Part 2 of the free book 'Everyday Anarchy,' available at www.freedomainradio.com/free